Newly named judge Lib­eral party donor

Lawyer An­drew San­fil­ippo do­nated al­most $1,900 from March 2016 to March 2017


OT­TAWA— A Toronto lawyer who was re­cently ap­pointed as a Su­pe­rior Court judge do­nated more than $1,800 to the gov­ern­ing fed­eral Lib­eral party in the months be­fore he was named to the bench, a string of giv­ing that in­cluded the pur­chase of a ticket to a fundrais­ing din­ner.

Be­tween March 2016 and March 2017, An­drew San­fil­ippo gave $1,878.87 to the Lib­eral party.

The found­ing part­ner at the down­town law firm O’Don­nell, Robert­son & San­fil­ippo be­came a judge in late June and the gov­ern­ment an­nounced his ap­point­ment July 18.

Ac­cord­ing to on­line records from Elec­tions Canada that go back to 2006, San­fil­ippo’s first po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion was $478.87 on March 31, 2016. He ac­knowl­edged in a state­ment through a Su­pe­rior Court spokesper­son that this was for a Lib­eral fundrais­ing din­ner — the same price as tick­ets for a din­ner with Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould that was hosted by the To­rys LLP law firm on April 7, 2016.

The fundraiser drew con­tro­versy at the time, with Con­ser­va­tive MPs de­cry­ing how the min­is­ter was so­lic­it­ing par­ti­san money from stake­hold­ers in her port­fo­lio. Ot­tawa’s ethics com­mis­sioner Mary Daw­son high­lighted the event in her 2016 an­nual re­port, and de­ter­mined that while it raised “ques­tions about the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of the way the fundrais­ers were or­ga­nized,” it did not break Par­lia­ment’s ethics rules.

It is not un­usual for ju­di­cial ap­pointees to have made po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions, nor does it break any rules.

In his state­ment through the court spokesper­son, San­fil­ippo stated that he did not ac­tu­ally at­tend the fundrais­ing din­ner, and that he bought the ticket af­ter be­ing so­licited by a le­gal col­league.

“He has never met, spo­ken to, or com­mu­ni­cated with Min­is­ter Jody Wil­sonRay­bould, and be­lieves that he has never at­tended any Lib­eral fundrais­ing event,” the state­ment said.

San­fil­ippo went on to do­nate $299 to the party on Dec. 5, 2016 and then $701on Dec. 30 — mean­ing he gave the party $1,478.87 in 2016. He also gave $400 in March of this year.

In­di­vid­u­als can­not do­nate more than $1,550 to a po­lit­i­cal party each year, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral law.

David Tay­lor, a spokesper­son for Wil­son-Ray­bould, said in an emailed state­ment that San­fil­ippo was ap­pointed on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the gov­ern­ment’s ju­di­cial ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as af­ter con­sult­ing the Chief Jus­tices of On­tario and the On­tario Su­pe­rior Court.

“At no point dur­ing the ju­di­cial ap­point­ment process was Jus­tice San­fil­ippo’s po- lit­i­cal do­na­tion his­tory con­sid­ered,” Tay­lor wrote.

“His merit was as­sessed based on the strength of his ju­di­cial ap­pli­ca­tion, the to­tal­ity of his ca­reer and ex­per­tise.”

Judges are tech­ni­cally ap­pointed by the gov­er­nor gen­eral, who acts on the ad­vice of cab­i­net and the jus­tice min­is­ter, ac­cord­ing to the de­part­ment’s web­site. The gov­ern­ment over­hauled its ju­di­cial ap­point­ment process last Oc­to­ber, ex­plain­ing at the time that they would make the re­gional com­mit­tees that con­sider ap­pli­ca­tions for ap­point­ments more di­verse and in­de­pen­dent.

Us­ing the Elec­tions Canada on­line data­base of con­tri­bu­tions, the Star found that 13 peo­ple with names and lo­ca­tions match­ing those of new judges ap­pointed this year by Ot­tawa have do­nated money to po­lit­i­cal par­ties since 2006. Of th­ese, two in­volved con­tri­bu­tions to the Con­ser­va­tives, and the rest were to the Lib­eral party.

The gov­ern­ment has ap­pointed 58 judges this year.

Richard Devlin, a pro­fes­sor of law at Dal­housie Univer­sity and co-au­thor of the re­cent book Reg­u­lat­ing Judges, said that the gov­ern­ment should con­sider a “cool­ing off pe­riod” so that peo­ple ap­ply­ing for po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ments would have to re­frain from mak­ing par­ti­san do­na­tions for a cer­tain pe­riod be­fore they can be se­lected.

“You don’t want to say peo­ple can’t be po­lit­i­cally ac­tive, but there is cer­tainly the op­tics (prob­lem) of large cash do­na­tions prior to one’s ap­point­ment,” he said.

Rocco Galati, a Toronto lawyer who led the 2013 chal­lenge that re­jected one of Stephen Harper’s Supreme Court ap­point­ments, said he be­lieves pol­i­tics has been part of the ju­di­cial ap­point­ment process for years.

He pointed to an ex­am­ple un­earthed by the left-lean­ing Broad­bent In­sti­tute in 2015 that raised con­cerns about ju­di­cial ap­point­ments by then-jus­tice min­is­ter Peter MacKay for peo­ple with whom he had par­ti­san or per­sonal ties.

“The whole sys­tem should be rais­ing your eye­brows right to the back of your head,” Galati said.

Mal­colm Mercer, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor who teaches ju­di­cial ethics at Osgoode Hall law school, said he doubts pub­lic con­fi­dence is af­fected by the few lawyers who make do­na­tions and are ap­pointed as judges.

“We should be en­cour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in our demo­cratic process rather than see­ing po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment as a bad thing,” he said. “It is more im­por­tant to fo­cus on ap­point­ing tal­ented judges with di­verse per­spec­tives.”

The Lib­eral party’s cash-for-ac­cess fundrais­ing prac­tices came un­der in­tense scru­tiny last year, when op­po­si­tion crit­ics as­sailed the gov­ern­ment for its prac­tice of hold­ing pri­vate events where Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and mem­bers of his cab­i­net would meet donors who paid some­times hun­dreds of dol­lars to at­tend.

In April, the Lib­eral party started pub­licly an­nounc­ing th­ese events in ad­vance and has also started post­ing guest lists on­line. Party spokesper­son Brae­den Ca­ley said in an emailed state­ment that the other ma­jor par­ties in Ot­tawa haven’t fol­lowed suit.

“We should be en­cour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in our demo­cratic process rather than see­ing po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment as a bad thing.” MAL­COLM MERCER AD­JUNCT PRO­FES­SOR AT OSGOODE LAW SCHOOL

An­drew San­fil­ippo also bought a ticket to a Lib­eral fundrais­ing din­ner.

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